Dear church family,

Tonight, March 23, 2020, I would like to share a few additional thoughts about the topic of FASTING that we started a couple of days ago. As I see how things develop around us, I realize we must show a distinct and consistent attitude as we find our true identity as Christ-followers.

It is extremely easy to focus only on ourselves and think that our ultimate purpose in life is to find salvation and protect it. Interestingly that was not Jesus’ attitude. As much as we should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) we are called not to separate ourselves from a dying world. Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 23:11 that “The greatest among you must be a servant.”

Speaking about fasting, historically we find that it did not take long for the proper purpose of fasting to be perverted within the church.
Asceticism, and in particular that practiced within the monastic movement, brought about the worst distortions of why fasting was to be done. Ascetics would separate from the world to exclusively focus on their own spiritual life.

They did not copy the error of the Scribes and Pharisees by proclaiming their fasting publicly, but they did copy one of their other serious errors. They came to believe that fasting in itself would bring about spiritual gain.

Instead of fasting being part of a response to an unusually intense time of danger, suffering, penitence or search for the mind of God on a matter, fasting became a critical part of asceticism.

Asceticism brought a perverted model of “spirituality,” and that model remained throughout the middle ages. They traded the inward reality for the outward facade.

The extremes that were already reached by the fourth and fifth centuries (300-400 AD) are seen in these clear examples.
– Isidore of Alexandria touched no meat, (I somehow relate to him since I’ve been vegetarian all my life!) But Isidore never ate enough, and as historian Palladius related, often burst into tears at the table for shame, that he, who was destined to eat angels’ food in paradise, should have to eat material stuff like irrational brutes.
– Macarius “The Elder,” or “the Great,” for a long time ate only once a week and slept standing and leaning on a staff.
– Macarius “The Younger” lived three years on four or five ounces of bread a day, and seven years on raw herbs and beans.
– A fellow named Batthaeus, because of his similar extreme abstinence, worms crawled out of his teeth.
– Another fella named Symeon spent 36 years praying, fasting, and preaching, on the top of a pillar thirty or forty feet high, ate only once a week, and in fast times not at all.
Such are some of the cases to which fasting was carried by the ascetics. These are some of the more extreme cases, but the same mindset about the spiritual reward in fasting continued.

The problem, of course, is that it confused the outward practice with the inward reality.

Scripturally, fasting was to arise from the heart, but this was corrupted like so many other things into a method of trying to change the heart by an outward action.

These ascetics would set themselves apart. They practiced “social separation” even before the Coronavirus existed! They separated themselves in an attempt to be holier and forgot about the mission Christians had been entrusted with.

As ascetics focused on protecting themselves, their needs and their “growth”, they became blind to the spiritual needs of a perishing world around them.

Brothers and sisters, I’m afraid we will soon face a very dark hour in our cities and communities.

As Christ-followers, during this upcoming crisis, it’s important to follow Mordecai’s advice to Esther: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” In other words, look at your current position as God’s sovereign placement for you to courageously lead those God has placed in your circle of influence.

I’ve been reading articles and evaluating opinions, hoping to help you lead well our church family and reach out to our immediate community over the coming weeks and months. I found some interesting insights and I found information on four Steps that I anticipate we will have to navigate in this crisis:

Step 1: Pause and Innovate
Step 2: Prepare and Plan
Step 3: Engage and Execute
Step 4: Recover and Reemerge

Tonight I want to focus on Stage 1: Pause and Innovate.

We are actually in this phase right now. Over the last week and a half, there’s been a ridiculous amount of information regarding COVID-19. As a result, our national and state leaders—through the advice of health and medical professionals—have constantly updated the public on measures they are taking and that we can take to help “flatten the curve.”

The significant move taken to flatten the curve hasn’t been the recommendation of “social distancing” but of public gatherings.
This recommendation has disrupted in-person education, sporting events, recitals, restaurants, and corporate worship gatherings.

As of today, authorities have recommended the cancelation of gatherings of 10 or more.
These recommendations should be and have been (for the most part) taken seriously in the faith community (although there are some that continue to meet in almost prideful defiance). As such, we had to pause, pivot, and innovate in ways that are different than our normal patterns.

For example, in our case, we are in the process of learning how to do a more meaningful and intentional “online ministry” for the very first time!

For some, we closed the church, but in reality, we opened many new churches in each one of your homes!

In this phase, with all the changes, recommendations, and cancellations, we had to hit the pause button on what we were doing and start making lists of what adjustments, full changes and innovations had to be made immediately.

Today I would like to stop and think of ways we can innovate to serve our surrounding community. Instead of turning into ascetics, extremists who only care about our own well-being, we must find ways to serve as Jesus served.

I’m not asking you to put yourself or your family in danger, but to keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities.
There are kids who are hungry, families losing jobs, people being evicted from their homes, individuals that are physically, mentally and emotionally scarred… I ask, how will we respond?

I realize your resources, my resources, our resources may be limited, but remember to “do for one, what you wish you could do for everyone!”

We need to be creative. Tonight, I want to leave you with a few Bible verses to consider as you go to sleep
– Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Galatians 6:10 “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

May we be ready to innovate!
May we hear and accept God’s calling, realizing that He has already equipped us with special and specific gifts for a time like this!
May the Lord inspire this Adventist MOVEMENT to make a meaningful impact in San Marcos!

You are in my prayers.
Much love,
Pastor Josh

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#smsda #growingtogether